Have you noticed that as a society we place a high degree of value on the concept of authenticity? I know I have. I have labored endlessly to establish myself as an artist that could one day be considered to be 'authentic'. At Cinemuse Film Society I have belabored the point that our program should represent authentic filmmakers who utilize their craft to illuminate authentic stories as opposed to the majority of mainstream films that peddle spurious ideologies for public consumption.
But in a recent piece that I wrote subsequent to my psychedelic experience with Psilocybin, I argued that the Self is an illusion—a mere projection in the brain. If this is indeed true, then that would mean that authenticity is also an illusion and that my desire to be true-to-myself is a meaningless pursuit, just like the pursuit of the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
What do I mean by the ‘Self’?
Some would refer to their sense of self as the ‘soul’, an unchanging, immortal spirit that rides along in the body and then goes to heaven or even to return to earth to be reincarnated. But if you can set aside this lofty hypotheses for a minute and consider the rudiment reality that our world is comprised of atoms, then your sense of Self represents your brain’s ability to be aware of itself as a separate cluster of atoms from the other clusters around you—the chair, the table and the glass of water. If you were not able to be aware of yourself, then you would not be able to pick up the glass of water and drink it.
A homo sapien, in the twenty first century, is no longer confronted with merely physical, 'separate clusters of atoms' such as lions, snakes and elephants, nor merely the personal, separate identities of siblings, friends, enemies and tribes, but is also confronted with the personal identities of celebrities, journalists, artists, politicians, nation states and corporate companies who all present themselves not only in physical form, but also as a barrage of ideas that are disgorged through television shows, radio ads, billboards, movies, Twitter and Facebook feeds.
As a result of this complex, metaphysical realm that define the human conscious, everyday experience, humans have evolved to define themselves as separate social identities in order to engage in meaningful conversation, to sell their skills, to sell unique ways of thinking in order to earn a living, to write a thesis that can be accepted according to a set of ideas of what constitutes good academic writing and to present an idea of oneself on Tinder in order to win the affections of a significant, sexual other.
All of these clusters of atoms and infinite sets of ideas need to be processed by the human brain in order for the host to survive and thrive. The result of these processes, that being, one’s response to the stimuli, is the Self.
As you can see, it is a mere projection in the brain that assists the cluster of atoms that is you, to make sense of the world around you.
This presents an interesting dilemma for the artist who tells herself that authenticity is a worthy ideal and also wishes to be accepted by the world as an authentic artist: If the self is an illusion, then an authentic self also is an illusion.
A new perspective.
This means that the artist is not trying to peel back the layers of pretense in order to discover an authentic self that is hidden deep below. Instead she is trying to splice together the multitude of stories that constitutes her sense of self, in order to present to the world a newly constructed story that can be perceived to be authentic.
But if it is constructed, can it be called authentic?
I recognize that if I continue down this line of argument I would soon be going round and round in circles. In my own life, I have peeled back layer after layer to try and discover my authentic self, not recognizing that this onion has infinite layers. I have chased the gold at the end of the rainbow, not recognizing that a rainbow is actually a circle—it has no end and it has no bottom. The goal, is an illusion.
Money does not rule the world, stories rule the world. All I have to decide is what story I want to tell.